The buzzword for the current Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting is Identity. Natan Sharansky discussed it yesterday. Today, it was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s turn and the subject of many of the discussions at the strategic planning round-tables later in the afternoon.
Here are some excerpts from the Prime Minister’s remarks this morning:
” … we have to recognize what it is that we need to succeed and to assure the Jewish future. There is a palpable challenge to our future from two main directions. The first one is the loss of identity – the loss of identity through assimilation or through intermarriage or through both is the greatest toll-taker of Jewish numbers in the last half-century.
… Israel today has the largest Jewish community in the world. We’re fast approaching six million souls and we’re fast approaching a point where the majority of the Jews will live in the land of Israel. That has not happened since the days of the Second Temple. That is, in one sense, good news and it will happen very shortly, but in another sense, it reflects not merely the growth and the development of Israel – the absorption of millions of immigrants from all over the world including over a million from the Former Soviet Union – and the naturally high growth rate of the Israeli population – very high – I think it’s the highest or among the highest in the developed countries, in developed economies – and that is a reflection of an inner – by the way – secular and religious alike – religious more, secular very high, very high, compared to say our counterparts in Western Europe – very, very high. And there is a natural life force in the Jewish people in response, I think, to the Holocaust – an enduring, lingering response to the Holocaust and to the wars of Israel and to our natural impetus to ensure that the Jewish people survive beyond the personal calculation and consideration that every family makes. So that is the good side and the robust nature of the Israeli economy, the development of the Israeli state, the Israeli society, the Israeli economy, Israeli technology – the capacity not merely to increase our numbers but to increase our productivity well beyond our numbers – to increase our economy, our GDP per capita well beyond the growth rate of our numbers – this is all good news.
The bad news is that we have steadily eroded as a people. The commitment of our young people – the Jewish people – have frayed at the edges, but there was a concomitant development which I think was important, and that is a concentration – a consolidation at the vibrant center including the Diaspora that says we should reverse this. And the most important thing which has happened in the last decade has been the conscious effort of the Diaspora first, and then Israel second, joining it pretty early on, to try to reverse the forces of the loss of identity through such programs as Masa and Taglit and the fostering of Jewish education, the study of Hebrew. These are conscious efforts to arrest the tide of loss of identity and we should continue them – we should increase them. We – I mean as a partnership between the Jewish people outside of Israel and the Jewish State of Israel, between the Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel and any other organization that seeks to support this important effort. We’re committed to this.
I was the first Prime Minister who actually gave money from the Israeli official budget to foster Jewish education abroad and to help Taglit. I thought it was a tremendous development which has since been augmented. But we are committed to do this and as our economy grows, we will add more resources for this common effort – stopping the loss of identity, strengthening the identity in the Diaspora, especially with young Jews – getting them to come to Israel, getting them to know Israel, getting them to consider staying in Israel or becoming ambassadors in their own communities and on their campuses fighting the vilification of Israel and also cementing their own commitment to it is a vital component for the Jewish future. And I assure you, Natan, that we will work together on this because we deeply believe it and ultimately we act on our beliefs.
Now there is one other component of this. As we strengthen – seek to strengthen – Jewish identity in the Diaspora, we must strengthen Jewish identity here in Israel. For one, we’re in a global economy, we’re in a global information economy and there is a widespread dissemination of a global culture – it’s not always very deep, it’s not always very inspiring but it is sweeping – it catches our young people, it gets them to deal and immerse themselves in matters or cultural matters that is not necessarily connected to their individual roots. This happens to their individual national roots or particular national roots. This problem challenges many, many nations and especially the smaller nations. The smaller peoples are facing this challenge of being effectively culturally swamped. And we know that without strong identification, without strong roots – we cannot create the motivations, the energies, the commitment to continue to build the State of Israel so this is not a minor effort. We also know that people are mobile and the more gifted, the more able and the more talented the people, the more their capacities and their skills are worthwhile and worthy on the universal market – they can just move. It’s a global marketplace. And therefore what will keep people here and what will keep our best young people here? What will keep them here is a strong commitment to ensuring their own personal fortunes here, their own personal lives here but also to ensure to deepen their commitment to the Jewish state in the Jewish land. And this requires a directed and purposeful effort.”